This exciting 10-day itinerary introduces travelers to South India's serene state of Kerala. Kicking off in the historic city of Cochin, located on the Arabian Sea, you'll set off for lush plantations, protected parks, and hill towns in the Western Ghats. Next, cruise your way through the area's glittering backwater canals before finishing the adventure with some relaxed beach time, fresh seafood, and a taste of Ayurveda. 

Highlights

  • Hike through working plantations (cardamom, tea, and coffee) for views of Munnar
  • Cruise Kerala's famous backwater canals and stay overnight on a houseboat
  • Visit a local family who will teach you how to cook Indian food and use spices
  • Get up close to unique bird and butterfly species in a sanctuary and national park
  • Enjoy free time to explore Varkala's untouristed beaches and Hindu temples

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Cochin Cochin
Day 2 Fort Kochi Tour - Cooking Demonstration Cochin
Day 3 Visit the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary - Transfer to Munnar Cochin
Day 4 Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour Munnar
Day 5 Transfer to Thekkady - Spice Plantation Tour Thekkady
Day 6 Jungle Walk - Transfer to Alappuzha - Boat Cruise Alappuzha
Day 7 Return to Land - Transfer to Alappuzha Alappuzha
Day 8 Transfer to Varkala - Beach Time Varkala
Day 9 Free Day in Varkala Varkala
Day 10 Depart Trivandrum  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Cochin

A tuk-tuk whizzing along a street in Cochin
A tuk-tuk whizzing along a street in Cochin

Welcome to Cochin! This port city on India's southwest coast—in the state of Kerala—is a great place to start your adventure. Upon arrival (and completion of the immigration and customs formalities), you will be met by a tour representative for a traditional welcome followed by a transfer to your hotel. Your representative will assist with check-in as well as go over the details of your adventure.

From here, take some time to relax at the hotel or explore your surroundings. Cochin's history stretches back to the time of King Solomon when it was known as ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’. This is where Arab, Chinese and European merchant traders came in search of spices, silks, and sandalwood. Sites reflecting those influences include Fort Kochi, a settlement in town with tiled colonial bungalows and diverse houses of worship. The adjoining backwater canals also help make Cochin a popular destination for travelers in Kerala. 

There are several options on how to spend your first evening in this part of the world. Consider catching a live musical performance, watching the Kathakali Dance Show at the cultural center, or joining a sunset cruise in the Arabian Sea.

Day 2: Fort Kochi Tour - Cooking Demonstration

Colonial architecture in Fort Kochi
Colonial architecture in Fort Kochi

It's time to explore Cochin! After breakfast at your hotel, it's time to join a half-day tour in the charming seaside area called Fort Kochi, known for its Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial architecture. 

The excursion begins by visiting the local Chinese Fishing Nets (introduced by the Chinese in the late 14th century) and the nearby Fort Immanuel. You'll then visit St. Francis CSI Church, the oldest European church in India built in 1503, followed by an open-air tuk-tuk ride—a popular mode of transport among the locals.

Whizzing through the streets, your tuk-tuk will stop at the Dhobi Khana, a laundry station which has historical significance from the Dutch occupation of the 17th century, as well as Mattancherry Palace, built by the Portuguese as a gift for the king of Kochi. You'll also pass by a Jewish synagogue and a pungent spice market for possible souvenirs.

In the evening, get ready to interact with a local Keralan family during a Cooking Demonstration. This special experience begins with a traditional sari draping where you will be shown how a long strip of cloth can be wrapped in various styles. Then, participate in a fun beginner course where you'll be taught how to cook Indian food and use Indian spices—all while getting acquainted with family members of a traditional Indian home. This is an enriching cultural and culinary experience that you won't soon forget.

Day 3: Visit the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary - Transfer to Munnar

Plantation views in the Munnar area
Plantation views in the Munnar area

Today, after breakfast in Cochin, you will be transferred away from the coastal plains to the higher altitude town of Munnar (81 miles/140km). Famous for its tea plantations, Munnar is located in the Western Ghats, approximately 5,249 feet (1,600 m) above sea level with spectacular views in all directions. 

There will be plenty of time to stretch your legs when you stop at the Thattekad Bird Sanctuary for a nature walk surrounded by forests, wetlands, and rivers. With more than 300 species of birds, this 15-square-mile (25 km) sanctuary is evergrowing as new avian members are added every year. 

Upon arrival in Munnar, you'll have free time to explore at your own pace. It's easy to see that this was once the summer resort of the British administration in South India; thankfully, today, Munnar retains its colonial charm. Make sure to wander through the colorful streets and poke around a few bazaars for potential souvenirs.

Day 4: Hike to Sevenmalai Hills - Tea Museum Tour

Get views of cardamom plantations
Look for cardamom plantations on your hike 

After an early breakfast, you'll start the day with a half-day hike in the beautiful hills surrounding Munnar. The trail commences with a gradual ascent through the tea, cardamom, and coffee plantations, and then climbs into the Sevenmalai Hills. From the top, you'll be rewarded with spectacular views of tea estates, Changulam Lake, Chittrapuram Dam, Munnar town, and other local villages. Return by foot on the same trail to complete the excursion.

Next, you can either return to the hotel or instead make a visit to the Tata Tea Museum located at the Nallathanni Estate. As evidenced by the surrounding plantations, the tea industry has played an integral part in the area's history. Showcasing photographs and machinery, the tea factory museum reveals a detailed insight into how tea is processed from fresh green leaves to the final product, ready to be packaged. 

Later in the evening, your guide will take you through the colorful markest in Munnar town.

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Day 5: Transfer to Thekkady - Spice Plantation Tour

Garden landscapes in Periyar National Park
Garden landscapes in Periyar National Park

This morning, keep your camera close as you drive across the lush green hillsides towards Thekkady (65 miles/104 km)—a small town close to Periyar National Park, boasting one of India’s most fascinating wildlife sanctuaries.

Periyar has one of the richest habitats for large mammals, as it provides both excellent cover and nourishment in the form of succulent shoots and grasses. Here it is possible to see up to 30 species of mammals including elephants, tigers, gaur (Indian bison), sloths, and monkeys, not to mention rich birdlife. Wildlife can be viewed on boat tours (optional).

Upon arrival at your hotel in Thekkady, it's time to set off on a guided Spice Plantation Tour. Spice gardens and plantations are abundant in this part of Kerala, and this customizable tour explains the history, growth, and development of wonderful spices like cardamom and pepper, as well as other important crops like tea, coffee, and vanilla. This is an exciting endeavor for many participants since most of the world has only viewed these products on supermarket shelves.  

Following the tour, you'll be returned to your hotel for the rest of the evening.

Day 6: Jungle Walk - Transfer to Alappuzha - Boat Cruise

A local paddles a boat in Alleppey
A local paddles her way through a canal

Rise and shine! Today is an exciting day that begins with a sunrise jungle walk in Periyar National Park where you can admire butterflies and birdlife like kingfishers, storks, and hornbills. The trails often pass through evergreen and moist deciduous forests interspersed with marshy grasslands. You'll be able to feel, hear, and smell an abundance of nature all around you.

Following the walk, you'll have breakfast at your hotel and then begin the drive to Alappuzha (90 miles/145 km), also known as Alleppey. Whichever way you call it, this is a principal center for backwater cruises in Kerala. Here you'll board a houseboat for a ride along the backwaters of Kerala—truly one of the highlights of the trip. Learn how these waterways are the lifeblood of the area; local commerce revolves around it with boats laden with everything from fish to the daily newspapers!

If that's not enough, you'll stay overnight on one of the houseboats in the middle of Vembanad Lake for the ultimate South Indian experience.

Day 7: Return to Land - Transfer to Alappuzha

 Boats along the main canal in Alappuzha
A main canal in Alappuzha

After a relaxing breakfast on your houseboat, it's time to return to dry land for the next portion of your trip. This is where you'll take a scenic drive along a portion of the Malabar Coast in order to get to your next overnight destination: a resort in the Alapphuza area.

Upon arrival, you'll have the remainder of the day to rest, relax, and enjoy the resort any way you wish. 

Day 8: Transfer to Varkala - Beach Time

Blue-green ocean views from Varkala
Blue-green ocean views from Varkala

After breakfast, you'll make the drive from your resort to the coastal town of Varkala (81 miles/130 km). This calm and quiet hamlet lies on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram (or Trivandrum), the capital of Kerala. Upon arrival, check into your hotel and spend the rest of the day at leisure.

You'll quickly notice that Varkala remains pristine, quiet, and free from mass tourism that can be found in other coastal areas. This enchanting beach hamlet is a terrific spot to unwind and soak up the sun and sand. Here you'll find two very beautiful beaches, Varkala Beach and Papanasham Beach. Take your pick and make sure to stick around for sunset.

Day 9: Free Day in Varkala

Varkala Beach
Varkala Beach

Today you'll have the entire day to enjoy Varkala at your own pace. In addition to the previously mentioned beaches, which could easily dominate your time here, you'll also have the chance to visit the Janardana Swami Temple (also known as Varkala Temple), a tranquil, 2000-year-old site celebrating Lord Vishnu with colorful carvings, shrines, and a dramatic wall of lanterns.

Another option is to visit Anjengo Fort, established by the British East India Company in 1696. Located near the town of Anchuthengu (30 minutes by car), the fort served as the first signaling station for ships arriving from England.

As for lunch in Varkala, you'll be spoiled for choice with a wide variety of beach shack restaurants serving excellent seafood and tandoori dishes. 

Other ideas for how to spend your free day include taking a bicycle tour, browsing for arts and crafts in the village markets, or signing up for an Ayurvedic massage or treatment.

Day 10: Depart Trivandrum

Goodbye, Varkala!
Goodbye, Varkala!

It's time to say goodbye to Kerala! At the designated time, you'll be transferred from Varkala to Trivandrum International Airport (27 miles/43 km) for your departure flight and onward journey. Safe travels!

Map

Map of Highlights of Kerala - 10 Days
Map of Highlights of Kerala - 10 Days